Dinosaur tracks have been known in the U.S. since the early
1800's, when some small bipedal tracks the size of turkey
prints were found in Jurassic redbeds of Massachusetts. The first
track discoveries near Glen Rose, Texas occurred shortly after a
violent flood ripped through the Paluxy Valley in 1908.
A number of large, three-toed prints were found in the
limestone floor of the Paluxy River and its tributaries.
They were soon identified by a local schoolteacher as
those of theropods (2-legged, meat-eating dinosaurs).
These tracks are now more precisely identified as the probable tracks
of Acrocanthosaurus, a carnosaur built similarly to T. rex,
but somewhat smaller, and with a raised ridge on its back.
One of the tracks was mounted in the bandstand in the Glen Rose
town square, where it resides to this day. During the next few
decades other trackways near Glen Rose were briefly described by
a number of Texas geologists, but drew relatively
little attention from other scientists or the public at large.
Local Glen Rose resident Charlie Moss,
cleaning a sauropod track. Moss is
credited with discovering the first
sauropod tracks in Texas (although
he evidently mistook the latter for
ancient elephant tracks). Photo
circa 1934, courtesy of Beatrice Moss.
Around 1934 dinosaur prints of another kind, and larger than any
previously found, were discovered in the Paluxy by local resident
Charlie Moss. Although now known to be tracks of large, four-footed
sauropod dinosaurs, they were mistaken by Charlie and other locals
for ancient elephant or mammoth prints. Meanwhile, a number
of large elongate depressions found in the Paluxy were casually
regarded as "giant man tracks" by local residents. In fact, one
resident (George Adams) began to carve enhanced versions of
such "man tracks" (with distinct but unnatural-looking toes) to
tourists and passers-by, many of whom were coming to Glen Rose at
that time for its restful "sanitariums" and mineral water. Another
local resident (Jim Ryals) sold a number real dinosaur tracks to
tourists, which he laboriously chiseled out of the riverbed.
The two loose "giant man track"
slabs seen by Roland Bird in a Trading Post window,
widely regarded as carvings. Note the very
unnatural features, especially the multi-jointed
toe marks. Two carved dinosaur tracks were also
seen in the trading post window.
However, the Paluxy tracks did not garner much attention from the outside
world until after a visit in 1938 by paleontologist Roland T.
Bird of the American Museum of Natural History in 1938. While returning
from a field expedition out west, Bird spotted some of Adam's carvings
(including both dinosaur and "human" track carvings) in a trading post
window near Gallup, New Mexico. Bird immediately recognized them as carvings,
but wondered what inspired the artist to make them. Upon inquiring about their
origin, was told that they came from the Glen Rose area. While in Glen
Rose, Bird not uncovered and documented many three-toed tracks,
but was amazed to also find immense tracks of four-legged sauropod
dinosaurs--some approaching the size of small bath tubs--which were
previously unknown to science. While many locals insist (and rightly so) that
Charlie Moss deserves credit for first finding such tracks, Bird was the
first to correctly identify them as sauropod tracks and bring them to
A portion of a trail of metatarsal
dinosaur tracks on the Alfred West Site.
Such tracks, when eroded, mud-collapsed,
or infilled, have often been mistaken for
"giant man tracks."
Track IIDW13 at bottom is one of the best
preserved metatarsal tracks in the Paluxy,
but the next track in sequence is more mud-
collapsed and thus shows a less distinct,
more human-like shape (and could become
even more human like with erosion and/or
During his Paluxy work Bird also examined some of the
elongate tracks called human or "moccasin" prints by locals.
He could not precisely identify such tracks, but felt
were made by some type of prehistoric reptile. As it turns out he
was on the right track. Aside from the carvings, most such "man tracks"
in the riverbed itself have been conclusively shown to be indistinct
or infilled forms of metatarsal dinosaur tracks--made
by theropod dinosaurs walking in an unusual plantigrade or
"heel-down" manner. (Other alleged human tracks include a variety
of ambiguous and erosional markings).
The famous Paluxy trackways excavated by
Roland T. Bird in 1939 and 1940. This has
often been interpeted as an ancient chase scene,
with the large four-footed sauropod dinosaur
being attacked by a carnivorous theropod
dinosaur. However, the paces are relatively
short, suggesing that the carnosaur may
simiply have been following the same path,
or tracking the sauropod from a distance.
During the next two years, using a team of local workers hired under a
a WPA project, Bird exposed a long section of the riverbed
with numerous parallel trails of sauropod tracks (indicating a
herding behavior) as well as a long trail of theropod tracks
following the same path, often interpreted as an ancient chase scene.
Contending with a fickle river that often flooded after each rain
and using sandbags to hold back the water, Bird and crew managed
to chisel out several striding sequences of the now famous trackways. One
sequence went to the American Museum, where after sitting in storage for
many years, it was carefully reassembled and mounted under a sauropod
skeleton. Other sections went to several other museums and universities.
Bird reported his findings in series of popular articles in Scientific
American and National Geographic, catapulting the little town of
Glen Rose into instant fame.
Despite the increased public attention, the Paluxy tracks again
fell into a period of neglect among scientists. Little
serious work was done on the tracks from the mid-1940's through
the late 1960's. However, in 1968 the land surrounding the
Bird quarry was purchased by the state and declared a National
Landmark, and in 1972 Dinosaur Valley State Park opened to the
public. Meanwhile, the during the 1970's the human track claims
were revived and
expanded by a number of strict creationists, some of whom made
a film proclaiming a number of elongate depressions were
clear human footprints, supposedly refuting evolution and the
conventional geologic timetable.
Acrocanthosaurus track at Blue Hole in
Dinosaur Valley State Park
During the 1980's more serious
mapping and analysis of the tracks began in Glen Rose, as it did
on many other track sites throughout the world. As Indiana paleontologist
James Farlow began further documentation and naming of the sauropod
tracks, I and other workers systematically studied and mapped many
of the predominantly theropod tracksites, and resolved the true
nature of the alleged human tracks--showing that most were forms
of metatarsal dinosaur tracks, while others were carvings and
still others erosional markings or ambiguous sedimentary features.
In the wake of such reports and
evidence most "man track" proponents backpedaling from their claims, although
a few individuals continue to promote them. Among them is local resident
Carl Baugh, who runs a little creationist museum about a mile south of
Dinosaur Valley State Park.
During the 1980's Dinosaur Valley also expanded its
facilities, developing an interpretive center with replicas of
part of Bird's trackways. It is one of the best attended
parks in Texas. Recently the park has purchased additional
land west of the previous border; the riverbed in this area includes
many of the distinct, infilled metatarsal tracks, one of the longest
trails in the Paluxy, a long sequence of small dinosaur tracks,
and other interesting prints. Plans for further development include
a full scale museum to replace the current interpretive center.
I am currently working with Texas Parks and Wildlife
to mark precise GPS coordinates for all known sites, and to
develop an interactive web application that will feature
diagrams, measurements, and photographs of all major tracksites
in Dinosaur Valley State Park as well as other localities.
Dinosaur Valley State Park is located just a few miles west of
Glen Rose proper, in Somervell County. Covering over 1500 acres,
the park not only exhibits some of the best dinosaur tracks in the
world (including the best preserved sauropod tracks anywhere), but
also features opportunities for camping, fishing, swimming, and
viewing beautiful scenery and wildlife. DVSP is open year round, but
late summer is the best time to visit for viewing the tracks, when
the river level is generally low.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Park Road 59, P.O. Box 396
Glen Rose, TX 76043